James Bond’s London
Wellington Square, in Chelsea, is the street where James Bond lives, deduced from geographic clues in Ian Fleming's novels. (David Allan)
On the edge of Hyde Park, the white Italian marble of London’s Marble Arch glowed in the light of the setting sun while I conspicuously stood under it, looking for my mark. I worried I had missed him, since I had seen only a single photo, and thought that I might not recognize him even if he strolled in front of me. After several minutes I dialled him on my mobile.
"I am just across Park Lane," he said. "Turn east, cross the street and you will see me near the corner."
"Sorry", I said, turning on my heel and looking in every direction, "Which way is east?"
"Well, Mr. Bond", he answered, with a cutting flash of sarcasm, "do you see which way the sun is setting? That would be west."
Chastened, I crossed the street and met Simon Rodway, an official city guide (www.silvercanetours.com) who leads a tour on Ian Fleming through the Mayfair neighbourhood of London. I was interested primarily in the real world destinations of the fictional James Bond and less in the places frequented by his creator, so Mr. Rodway led me on a more bespoke route. I soon learned, however, that finding 007's London calls for walking in the footsteps of Fleming as the two men's interests and experiences overlap considerably.
Bond and Fleming were both intelligence agents with a penchant for gambling and the finer things in life. They also were globetrotters who jetted from one exotic locale to another but called London home. The city is a recurring setting in the 007 novels and much of the backdrop to Moonraker (the 3rd in the 007 series), which I re-read in preparation for my tour.
Mr. Rodway and I began with a series of mildly interesting stops: Fleming's birthplace, just around the corner from Marble Arch at 27 Green Street; the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve's club (38 Hill Street; www.navalclub.co.uk ), of which both Fleming and Bond were members; the high-end retailers of Berkeley Square that Fleming and Bond might be familiar with, like the Bentley (Bond's car make in Moonraker) and Rolls Royce showrooms; and perhaps the last of what were once many "spy shops" (1 Berkeley Street) in the neighbourhood.
When we made the jog over to St James's Street (which ends just one block from where Old Bond Street begins - merely a coincidence), the world of Fleming's 007 started to come to life. We stood outside the famous and famously private gentlemen's club, White's (37-38 St James's), whose members have included Fleming, Prince Charles, Prime Minister David Cameron and actor David Niven, who was Fleming's choice to play Bond in the film adaptations before Sean Connery nabbed the role. Not being members we could only look in and spy on the members reading the newspaper and having an aperitif.
Across the street from White's is the state gray building of the recently closed casino (50 St James's) known in Fleming's day as one of the most famous casinos in the world. It offered high stakes to high society and is believed to be the inspiration for the first novel, Casino Royale. Next door to the White's club is the Beretta Gallery, as in the Beretta 418, the firearm carried by James Bond in the first several books. Fleming almost seems lazy for simply looking out the bay window of White's for inspiration.
Walking south, we reached Boodles (28 St. James's; www.boodles.org), the second oldest gentlemen's club in the world where Fleming was also a member and which inspired the gin of the same name as well as Moonraker's fictionalized Blades club. Fleming devoted four chapters of the book on an intense bridge game with the cheating villain Hugo Drax at Blades. Standing before the stately white and brick building and peering into the heavily draped interior (after being denied a look inside), was enough to make me feel I had stepped through the looking glass into Fleming's novel.
'Shaken, not stirred'
The only way to get closer to James Bond's world, I thought, would be to drink it in, which is what I did at a hotel bar a couple of blocks away that legend purports to be the home the famously "shaken, not stirred" Vesper martini.